The archipelago of Andaman & Nicobar comprises of 572 islands of which 37 are inhabited. Made up of two island groups, the Andaman Islands to the north and the Nicobar Islands to the south, these islands have a tropical rainforest canopy and are very rich in bio-diversity. Over 2200 varieties of plants have been recorded there out of which 200 are endemic and 1300 of them do not occur in mainland India. There are close to 270 species of birds found there of which more than 30 species are found nowhere else, meaning, they are endemic to the islands. Also, every once in a while, some vagrants land up on one of the islands, like the Mandarin duck which was spotted in Little Andaman this year (I was lucky to see this one). So, birding in Andaman is a must do for any bird lover. Add to that the lovely beaches, the serene landscape, the ship rides between islands, it all makes for a wonderful and a complete experience for any nature enthusiast.

This is a long read, there’s a lot to cover, please bear with me…

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View from the flight as it lands into Port Blair

Whenever I lead a Bird photography tour to the place, I usually cover two main places, Port Blair and Little Andaman. Great Nicobar is another island that is on my wish-list; hope to make it there sometime.

In Port Blair, there are multiple locations that are good for birding. Shoal Bay is one of them. A short ferry ride early in the morning followed by an hour’s drive takes you to this place with lovely mangroves on one side and a forested patch on the other. Surprisingly, even in summer, this place seems to have a thick blanket of fog cover in the mornings!

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Fog cover canopy – Shoal bay

On one of my visits’ to the place, I was welcomed by this beautiful Asian-fairy bluebird in lovely light.

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Asian fairy bluebird

Great place to tick off the Andaman endemics like the Andaman woodpecker, Andaman cuckooshrike and the Andaman drongo among many others (see images below, clockwise from left).

 

Black baza also shows up very regularly over there.

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Black baza

Another place known as the Sippy ghat has lot of large water bodies where there are chances of spotting the endemic Andaman teal or the Sunda teal and many other water birds.

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Andaman teal

Next up is Chidiya Tapu (Bird Island). As the name suggests, this is another fantastic place for birding and quite well known. The gorgeous view of the sunset over there draws a lot of people to the place. It truly is a very soothing and scenic experience.

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Sunset at Chidiya Tapu

The route to Chidiya Tapu in itself is a beautiful ride, getting past lovely beaches followed by winding roads meandering through the beautiful rainforest patches. Lot of birding can happen en-route. At Chidiya tapu, the biological park is a great location to look for birds. Long tailed parakeets, White-headed starlings, Andaman coucal, Andaman treepies (see images below, clockwise from left), Andaman drongos, Minivets, Violet cuckoo and many more can be sighted along the various walking paths inside the park.

 

Another exciting part of Andaman is the night birding. Andaman has 5 species of owls and one nightjar which are endemic. Looking out for them in the dead of the night is indeed a thrilling experience.

As the sun sets, the crowd disperse and darkness begins to settle, the owls and the nightjars begin their day. Walden’s scops owl, Andaman scops owl, Hume’s hawk owl and the Andaman hawk owl (see images below, clockwise from left) can be seen around the parking area of the biological park. As the street lights start to come on, so do the insects that get attracted to the light and owls are drawn to this numerous source of food. One has to be patient and keep a lookout for these wonderful nocturnal creatures.

 

A great place to spot the Andaman nightjars too.

Andaman-Nightjar

Andaman nightjar

The beautiful Andaman barn owl ( also known as the Andaman masked owl ) is quite an elusive one. However, if lucky, one can be seen during the day too. I got really lucky :-)

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Andaman barn owl ( pair )

After covering a lot of ground at Port Blair, I make a visit to the lovely island known as Little Andaman ( also known as Hut bay ). An 8hr ship ( nice passenger ones with cabins and dorms ) ride form Port Blair gets you there. This island, spreading over an area of around 700 sq.km. and with a population of about 20,000, still holds a very rustic feel. It is like going back in time. A very laid back and beautiful place.

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A beautiful lake in Little Andaman

The dense forest patches of the island are home to a wide variety of animal life. The walking trails through the forests that run parallel to the lovely white sandy beaches are truly mesmerising. This is one of the places where we can find the Nicobar pigeon outside of, of-course, Great Nicobar.

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Nicobar pigeon

Many of the Andaman endemics like Andaman cuckoo-dove, White-breasted swallow (see images below, clockwise from left) can be spotted here as well.

 

The very elusive Beach thick-knee is also a probable on the beaches of Little Andaman.

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Beach thick-knee

Amidst all the birding, there are other wildlife that cross our paths too. Some in the night, like this snake here. We were birding on a small bridge over a stream in the night, looking for owls, when the light from our guide’s torch fell on the stream floor, below. There were around 4-5  of these individuals out in the open, probably waiting for a good night’s dinner.

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Andaman keelback ( I presume )

Some during the day, like this beautiful leaf insect.

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Leaf insect

Andaman is indeed a bird lover’s paradise. It is a must visit and deserves to be on the bucket-list of anyone who enjoys experiencing nature, that is as yet, unspoilt and pristine.